Dean Potter walks the line (and then jumps off)
March 16, 2008 12:13 PM   Subscribe

"He had learned this extreme form of tightrope walking from a homeless man who wrote books on quantum physics." Iconoclastic rockclimber Dean Potter combines highlining, a form of tightrope walking, with BASE-jumping. This jaw-dropping video of Potter "baselining" 900' above a canyon in Utah provides a taste of what to expect from The Aerialist, a recent documentary profiling this insane lunatic innovative athlete. posted by donovan (37 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
"jaw-dropping video" Sphincter tightening too!

Really cool stuff. The shots from above as he crossed the highline were amazing. thanks.
posted by vronsky at 12:24 PM on March 16, 2008


where's his cat?
posted by pyramid termite at 12:28 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Potter is up there with Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, and Lisa Rands in terms of what he's done to re-define what's possible in modern climbing.
posted by dolface at 12:31 PM on March 16, 2008


I can't even watch more than a minute of that. It certainly invokes the "Oh, HELL no!" reaction out of me.
posted by msali at 12:46 PM on March 16, 2008


This made my hands sweaty. I can't imagine having the desire to do that, and I'm awed at this guy's calm. Amazing video, thanks.
posted by Pecinpah at 12:51 PM on March 16, 2008


Here's a video of Dean taking a pretty ridiculous fall on one of his trademark routes The Tombstone. After seeing the baseline stuff, this now looks tame.
posted by trbrts at 1:12 PM on March 16, 2008


that is utahrded scary
posted by MNDZ at 1:34 PM on March 16, 2008


DO

NOT

WANT
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:39 PM on March 16, 2008


Potter is up there with Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, and Lisa Rands in terms of what he's done to re-define what's possible in modern climbing.
For starters, that's a pretty US-centric roundup of climbers. And while I guess you could argue that Caldwell and Rodden, who have done some incredibly audacious traditional (ie where you place your own protection in the rock, rather than clipping into pre-placed bolts) routes on alpine big walls are part of a group who are 'redefining' what is possible in climbing - taking the fitness and confidence borne of sport climbing to the alpine.
But while Sharma and Rands are incredibly talented, strong climbers, they are advancing standards rather than redefining them. I mean, nobody believd that 5.15 was never going to be acheived, it's just that Chris Sharma was the first person to climb a route of that consensus grade.
Dean Potter certainly is redefining what's possible in climbing though, along with the Huber brothers, while what's been done in the mixed/alpine arena by people like mild-mannered geophysicist Raphael Slawinski is just mind-blowing.

One more nit to pick - it's somewhat disengenuous of the NYT to describe 'Chongo' as a "homeless man who wrote books on quantum physics". He's a long-time Yosemite local who chooses to live there in a trailer or a cabin or whatever, and he's an intellectual; the paper's description puts you in mind of some crazy guy pushing a shopping cart around!
posted by Flashman at 1:42 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


This jaw-dropping video of Potter "baselining" 900' above a canyon in Utah provides a taste of what to expect from The Aerialist, a recent documentary profiling this insane lunatic innovative athlete.

Not to be a hater, but he walked like 5 steps with about as much balance as anyone might have, and then jumped and pulled his parachute. I mean, I'm not saying everyone's up for parachuting 900' or whatever, but I don't really see how it's exactly innovative.
posted by mdn at 2:14 PM on March 16, 2008


Not to be a hater, but he walked like 5 steps with about as much balance as anyone might have

I think we must run in very different circles.
posted by donovan at 2:31 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have to say that B.A.S.E. jumping from the top of various mountains is really appealing to me, though I will probably never do it.

Its kind of weird to think that most of these "insane" new sports are not really pushing the limits of human fitness or strength or dexterity, they are pushing the limits of fear tolerance. Crossing that tightrope isn't really that HARD, and with enough practice, I'm pretty sure I could do it if it were a few feet above the ground. However, I know that I don't have the guts to do it if its 900 feet above the ground.

I'm curious what people think about this as a "sport" in the traditional sense of the word. Does "sport" mean something that is fitness intensive and requires unusual strength and/or dexterity? Or have we redefined "sport" to mean mental willpower and focus as well (without the fitness aspect of it, I realize that most sports have this mental component to them, but thats not usually the primary component).

Thoughts?
posted by spott at 2:41 PM on March 16, 2008


Oh, it's a sport, alright. Challenging one's balance and endurance and mental toughness are what this type of contest is all about. Most people can walk along a 2 x 4 on the ground . Raise it up a few feet though, and it suddenly becomes more difficult. Now raise it above your head and most everyone will fail. Now change the platform to a wire that moves with your weight and the wind. Then span that wire above a 1000 foot canyon. Now it's a completely different matter. Watch the section where the climbers, ( superbly conditioned athletes with fantastic balance) are doing it in camp, then imagine trying that where Potter does.

The difficulty of any balancing task increases exponentially with elevation gain. I have a friend who rides a unicycle, A moderate feat of balance for most. Yet he became quite famous in extreme sports. It's where he rides his unicyle that makes the difference.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:06 PM on March 16, 2008


mdn: Obviously Potter is more skilled in BASE jumping than walking the tightrope, but if you're a pioneer in a sport like this, that's a better combination than the other way round.
posted by ikalliom at 3:08 PM on March 16, 2008


ikalliom: Potter is almost certainly not more skilled in base jumping than slacklining (which this is... it is emphatically not tightrope walking, where the tightrope is actually a very taught wire). Potter was one of the guys that probably helped invent slacklining and is really quite adept at it.
posted by Inkoate at 3:37 PM on March 16, 2008


In Squamish, we always called it slacklining. Even at 300 feet up, between The Chief and adjacent smaller trees and peaks.

BTW, that sh*t always made me want to puke. And I agree with mdn. Five steps? Anyone.

And Alex Huber? The man. Wearing a helmet while free-climbing 1400 feet? [speechless]

Lastly, these days, instead of bouldering, I prefer buildering. That's a rush that makes me feel like I am actually accomplishing something. Climbing man-made stuff is like a whole other type of ownership.

When you are in any good-sized city, and climb atop of stuff where people are unable to imagine what you're holding on to, it's a good thing.
posted by humannaire at 3:41 PM on March 16, 2008


I'm with mdn. Assuming the linked vid is the same one on the nyt page, I found it not only not impressive but pretty laughable. He jumps off cliffs with parachutes. He jumps off ropes with parachutes. This is hardly a new "sport".
posted by dobbs at 3:41 PM on March 16, 2008


This didn't makes my palms sweaty at all.

Mad-dash free climbing, yes.

Ultra-low BASE jumps, yes.

Wing-suit "flights", yes.

Now if he'd been slacklining without the chute ...
posted by bwg at 3:58 PM on March 16, 2008


Did you doubters watch the last video that donovan linked? I don't see a chute.
posted by found missing at 4:01 PM on March 16, 2008


"the tightrope is actually a very taught wire"

Aha! They can teach the wire! I knew there was trickery involved.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:04 PM on March 16, 2008


Aha! They can teach the wire! I knew there was trickery involved.

DOH. :)
posted by Inkoate at 4:17 PM on March 16, 2008


However, I know that I don't have the guts to do it if its 900 feet above the ground.

? but he had a parachute. I'd sure as fuck never do it without a parachute, but as it is, it's equivalent to anyone jumping out of a plane or going hang-gliding etc - yeah, not everyone's up for it, but probably less scary the second time & certainly not a whole new thing.

Most people can walk along a 2 x 4 on the ground . Raise it up a few feet though, and it suddenly becomes more difficult. Now raise it above your head and most everyone will fail.

That is a good point, although I still feel like the safety net on his back has to change matters somewhat. But maybe it's too abstract when you're 900' in the sky...
posted by mdn at 4:23 PM on March 16, 2008


did you watch the last video?
posted by found missing at 4:41 PM on March 16, 2008


This one.
posted by found missing at 4:42 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Precisely, found missing. Watching the movement of the line in that video really brings home the difficulty of the task. Reminds me of the first time I tried to stand up on a sailboard and suddenly found how difficult it is to adjust your balance in three dimensions, even without the added threat of death.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:57 PM on March 16, 2008


aha! That's what I'm talking about. I don't get why that's linked as "see also" and the one where he wobbles and parachutes is linked as "jaw dropping", but I wish to respectfully shift my official opinion: he's crazy, he'll probably die this way, but I gotta say, that is pretty freakin' awesome (& it'll be a fine way to go.)
posted by mdn at 5:23 PM on March 16, 2008


Yeah, again I'll agree with mdn. The found missing video is excellent. The "jaw dropping" one is pathetic.
posted by dobbs at 5:56 PM on March 16, 2008


A true master, inspiring and it tells me I am not too far out in the things I do. I find it ironic however that if he gets high they would call him crazy and put him in jail, but he can risk his life in an extreme fashion all he wants if he is sober. The end result, death, is the same. He is allowed to do it, I am sure it creates an intense buzz, but wow! It's like the giant wave surfers. God bless him.
posted by sensi63 at 5:58 PM on March 16, 2008


Thanks for posting this. I was aware of slacklining, but unaware of how far the idea was being taken. Glad you brought it to my attention.
posted by friendlyjuan at 6:32 PM on March 16, 2008


aha! That's what I'm talking about. I don't get why that's linked as "see also" and the one where he wobbles and parachutes is linked as "jaw dropping"

Whoopsie. I wrongly assumed folks might read the first link and have suitable context for the video (which, c'mon dobbs, pathetic?) but I know I always dive for the video link. The Lost Arrow slackline is definitely more "jaw dropping" and makes me think Potter should be sponsored by an underwear company, 'cause I think I went through two pairs just watching the damn thing.

Anywoo, I agree the post could have been better structured--after seven years I still feel like a n00b on the blue ;-)
posted by donovan at 7:21 PM on March 16, 2008


Well, donovan, as for me, I'm one of those knarly, extreme, like ... totally-rad users who opens the links before commenting.

Call me crazy.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:10 PM on March 16, 2008


I agree that the video would be jaw-dropping without the parachute, but it's pretty meaningless with it.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:07 PM on March 16, 2008


He's a long-time Yosemite local who chooses to live there in a trailer or a cabin or whatever, and he's an intellectual; the paper's description puts you in mind of some crazy guy pushing a shopping cart around!

Actually Chongo got booted from the valley last year and now lives under a bridge in Sacramento. Just saying.
posted by alpinist at 9:30 PM on March 16, 2008


Ok, for those of you who aren't impressed by the slacklining, I have to tell you I've found it really difficult. I definitely would not say "5 steps is easy for someone with average balance".

I've only tried it a few times.. but I'd guess I've got above average balance (I climb on a regular basis, ride a unicycle (though not on the edge of mountains; thanks for the Kris Holm vid!), was a competitive figure skater for 4 years..)... and slacklining is really damn hard.

I was trying it 3 feet off the ground, and it took almost all of my physical core strength just to stand up. I never did manage to take more than one step. The line swings at least a foot to each side, and also moves up and down quite significantly under your weight; additionally it is somewhat springy and thus pushes against you as you move; unlike a tight rope, what you're trying to walk on isn't steady, but is still thin. I was honestly completely suprised at how hard it was too... but it is. Not just balance hard, but muscle hard-- I was sore in the abs for quite a while after fooling around with it. And we aren't even adding any fear factor here.

Also 900' may be higher than base jumps, but remember he isn't planning on jumping. If he falls without warning, how long before he gets control enough to pull the chute and recover?
posted by nat at 9:32 PM on March 16, 2008


He says in the nyt video that when he feels himself falling he has to make a choice re whether to try to grab for the ropes or to jump out and pull the chute. Did anyone understand why this choice is necessary, and whether if he misses the ropes he can still pull the chute? Is he afraid of the chute getting tangled in the rope? I think I'm missing something, but from how he explains it it seems a little complicated.
posted by onlyconnect at 10:07 AM on March 17, 2008


I think it's actually pretty simple. He'd rather not have to drop all the way to the valley bottom, because it's gonna mean having to walk all the damn way back up to the rim to try again, so if he can he'll grab the line and crawl back to the edge. He'd know instantly, instinctlively if this was doable or not, and if not I guess he'd push out to set himself up right away in a good stance to release the parachute.
I'm sure if he tried to make a grab for the line and missed he'd still be ok with deploying his chute, but that would mean not being in control, and fundamentally when doing things like this you want to be in control.

Actually Chongo got booted from the valley last year and now lives under a bridge in Sacramento. Just saying.
Thanks for the beta. That explains why my Christmas card got 'returned to sender.'
posted by Flashman at 1:39 PM on March 17, 2008


If he falls off on the inside he'll be too close to the cliff, and in danger of having his chute snag on the rock face. He also needs to have his body correctly positioned, so that the chute can deploy properly. Thus , when he slips he has to decide whether to grab for the line, or the ripcord. It's one or the other. He could grab for the line and miss, and still deploy, but the chances of a bad opening are dramatically increased.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:22 PM on March 17, 2008


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